When is electronic tracking OK?

If you’ve consistently read my posts (that means you, Mom), you know I’ve recently been intrigued by electronic monitoring and tracking of human behavior. As humans, we have very peculiar beliefs when it comes to being tracked by technology. We seem to be OK with it if, 1) we don’t know it’s happening, 2) we get something for it (like a 10% discount on a smoothie), and, 3) it isn’t too intrusive.

This really became clear to me when I started a discussion on LinkedIn around one of my recent blog post about using RFID badges to track students. I started the discussion in a LinkedIn group focused on process improvement within healthcare. Healthcare, after all, has been tracking patients for years, and I wanted their opinion on the process improvement benefits available through the use of RFID badges versus the resistance put forth by some of the parents of this school district.

Surprising answers

To my surprise, there was very vocal resistance tracking of students using words like, “mistrust,” “privacy,” “dehumanization,” “controlling,” and “authoritarian.” Not what I expected from a group focused on process excellence or an industry that has been tracking and monitoring very detailed information about humans as a standard practice. I thought they’d see all the same parallels that I saw, but they didn’t and it isn’t the first time I was surprised by one of my assumption.

It did get me to think about the imaginary line that every person, organization, and industry has to draw as to when it is OK to let technology monitor a human and how intrusive it can be.

A couple of dichotomies I’ve recently seen include.

  • It is OK to allow a camera to take a picture of a vehicle license plate to track average travel times on roadways, but it is not OK to grab a random mobile phone ID to calculate the same information.
  • It is OK to track a patient in a telemetry unit of a hospital or a newborn in the nursery of a hospital, but it isn’t OK to track a student at their school.

There seems to be a thinly veiled gray area around when the person’s best interests are at stake. If we think the person will individually benefit by us knowing their vital signs it’s OK. If we are protecting the innocent, like newborns it is OK. If we are going to have an economic reward like a coupon, it’s OK.

Get the strategy right

So, this leads me to ask the question of how should organizations and individuals think about these issues? With the mobility boom, the opportunities to track students, patients, and employees will only increase (those FedEx and UPS drivers have been tracked for years). As will the potential benefits to the individual and enterprise. But, a poorly thought out strategy will hurt a retailer, employer, school district, or hospital.


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Categories: Continuous Improvement, Healthcare, Information Technology, Mobility, Privacy

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2 Comments on “When is electronic tracking OK?”

  1. Julia Appleton
    January 18, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Very happy to see this mentioned. We are a nation of irrationality as it relates to our personal live generally. Although, I enjoyed the 50% discounted. Spa package, randomly sent, I still regard the tracking of personal likes based on searches, to be intrusive and judgemental. I really despised the the offer for plastic surgery discounts because it is not wanted or needed. In addition, I have never searched for anything related. The minds behind the power of this technology should consult with psychology experts. It has turned me away from all online offers and reduced online spending dramatically.

    • January 18, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Thank, Julia. Interestingly, the cell phone companies use psychologists extensively when analyzing the customer and designing offers. Unless the retailers do, there will be backlash.

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